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How to help your pet adjust to post lockdown life
30 April 2021
For many pets, having their humans home during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has been a dream come, but what happens when we go back to work?
People spending more time at home during the Covid-19 lockdowns turned to theirs pets for comfort and companionship, with 2020 seeing an increase in the number of people adopting, fostering and purchasing new pets.
“COVID restrictions have led to an increase in dog ownership: with people spending more time at home, they decided to share that time with a loving and loyal companion.” says Steve Rush, owner of The Dog Ranch doggy care in Mona Vale on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
There are almost 29 million pets in Australia, and we have one of the highest pet rates in the world. According to Animal Medicines Australia, 61% of Australian homes have at least one pet.
COVID-19 restrictions changed the way we interact with our furry friends. With people staying at home, many pets spent more time with their families, went on more walks, and started eating meals at different times.
Now, as international travel bubbles start to open and COVID-19 vaccination programmes begin, many of us are welcoming the return of more regular routines. But for pets that have enjoyed months of human company, a return to being left home alone may be confusing and stressful. If you adopted your pet during the lockdown period, your lockdown life is the only reality they have known. New pets may find the transition more difficult as this could be the first time they have been left home alone for prolonged periods.
“For any animal that already suffers from anxiety, the transition from working from home back into the workplace will be difficult,” says PETstock vet, Dr Sasha Nefedova.
What can I do to prepare my pets for this change?
Fortunately, there are some simple, practical, and preventative steps we can take to help our furry friends adjust to life after lockdown. We suggest:
Stick to a regular routine
Like us, our pets can find erratic and unpredictable changes to their daily routine stressful. Maintaining a regular schedule of exercise, feeding, toileting, rest and one-on-one time will reduce stress.
For many of us, our regular routines went out the window during lockdown and it’s important to make gradual changes so pets can get used to a new routine and can cope when you’re not around. Ensure that the routine you set is the same one you will follow once you’re back at work, so your pet gets used to the changes.
Dr Nefedova also recommends “Playing with your pet or taking your dog for a walk before or after work will help establish a routine that they are familiar with when you return to your workplace, rather than expecting a walk or to be played with at lunchtime.”
Leave your pet alone
Try to give your dog time alone during the day. This could be in a crate or a different room to you; it will help remind them of how to cope with their own company.
Start small and gradually increase how long you are away; at first, leave them alone for only five or ten minutes. This is particularly important if you have adopted a rescue animal who might not have been left home alone before.
“In order to get pets used to a normal routine again, it is important to gradually leave the house for a longer period and show them that their owners will always return home,” says Sarah Ross, Companion Animal Expert at FOUR PAWS.
Use enrichment toys
It’s a good idea to give your dog a special chew, slow feeders or a Kong with peanut butter and frozen wet food inside to keep them busy after you leave. Make sure it’s the only time your dog gets this special treat. It’s best to put down the treat and leave.
To prevent your cat from suffering from boredom while home alone, provide puzzle feeders, toys and scratching posts – this is especially important for indoor cats. Providing cat furniture, such as shelves, cat trees and hiding spots, will help your cats feel safe.
Combing these enrichment activities with alone time will act as a pacifier and build on the positive association – good things happen when I am left alone.
Tire them out before you leave
Before leaving your pet alone, exercise or play activities with your pet to burn off their excess energy as a tired pet is often calmer than one with pent up energy. Exercise your dog by going for a brisk walk or playing a busy game of fetch or tug of war outside before leaving. Cats love chasing wand toys, so spend some time playing with them before you leave.
Just make sure that whatever you do results in a calm, happy pet by the time you leave, not a more excited one!
Don’t make a big out of leaving and returning
When leaving or coming back home, stay calm and don’t make a fuss; this will help your pet feel relaxed.
When you return home, your pet will really be happy to see you. As hard as it is, resist the temptation to give them lots of pats until they settle down. Give your pup some love but keep it calm and low key. You want to keep them from having big swings of high and low emotions associated with you being home or leaving for work.
Leaving your dog with a friend, relative, dog-sitter or at doggy daycare is a great option, and doesn’t need to be long term. You could start on five days, then four days down to no days; easing your dog into your back to work schedule gradually.
At doggy daycare, your dog gets the company of humans and other dogs while you’re away.
Worried your pet might still be suffering from separation anxiety?
Here are some of the common signs of stress you can look out for:
- destructive behaviour like chewing door frames and furniture; scratching or digging
- whining, barking, howling
- urination, defecation, spraying
- escaping from the house or backyard
- loss of appetite
- repetitive behaviours
- toileting issues like not using their litter tray
- howling, hissing, growling or meowing
- destructive or aggressive behaviour
- seeming bored or depressed
- loss of appetite
- becoming withdrawn, hiding more than usual
Never punish or yell at your pet for their anxious behaviour. This will only increase negative associations and fear and make things worse instead of better. The goal should be to help them feel safe and relaxed in their surroundings.
If you have tried making gradual changes we have suggest, and your pet still exhibits stressed or anxious behaviour you should speak to your vet or pet behaviourist for specific advice regarding treating separation anxiety in your animal.
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